Thirty two. The number of times I have packed up my classroom.
The teachers at my school have to pack up our classrooms so (over the summer) the custodians can throughly clean the desks, wipe down the book shelves, wax the floors and get everything looking spic and span for the next school year. This year, however, is different because it is my last time.
It was also different because this is usually a happy and bustling time. Teachers at my school enjoy playing the game of “someone’s trash is another’s treasure” as we set items up for grabs that we no longer think we will use or just don’t have room for any more. But this year there was a feeling of loss and emptiness. You see only a few teachers were allowed in the building at a time in keeping with the state mandates. We also had to wear masks and social distance. The silence was deafening.
Little did I know that March 11th would be my very last full day of teaching in the classroom. I would not get to experience the “this is the last time I will ____” moments. Little did I know that for the next nine weeks the students would experience total online learning and never walk back into their third grade classroom. The picture taken above was less than two weeks before the school closed down for the year.
As I unlocked the door, flipped on the lights, and (after being away for seven weeks) stepped into my classroom it was a very surreal moment. It was as if the scene had been frozen in time. A forgotten jacket was left hanging on a hook, test papers neatly stacked on my desk were waiting to be returned, an abandoned lunch box sat on the shelf, desks were filled with books, pencils, and erasers. There were library books waiting to be read, miscellaneous art work and stories that had been written and proudly displayed ~ all waiting silently for the sweet faces of my students to come back.
It took me two days to pack up my classroom. Each child was supplied with one bag in which I placed the items from their desks to be given to them on a later date. Once that was completed I moved on to the task of getting rid of or finding a new home for teaching material. I am not a pack rat so it was not as tedious as it could have been.
When I completely finished I walked out the door and was about to close it when I decided to go back and sit at my desk one final time. So many thoughts and questions began to go through my head. Did I do enough? Did the children learn what they were suppose to? Was I too strict or too lenient? Was I always fair, was I kind, was I patient, did they know how much I cared ~ even though I told them those words every single day, did they really know? When they look back one day remembering their time in my class will it be with a smile or a scowl?
I thought about the teammates I have worked with over the years. I guesstimate I have worked with about 96 different women on my grade level alone over the course of my career. Was I a good teammate? Did I mentor enough? Was I supportive enough? As time passed, it was eye opening when I realized some of these ladies were not even born when I started teaching.
Will my students and coworkers ever know how much they taught me? Patience, understanding, acceptance, humility. I truly will miss the life and energy they brought each and every day.
Did I make the right decision to retire? Yes, indeed I did. It is time – sometimes you just know these things.
I smiled as I got up and silently walked toward the front of the room and out the door. As I quietly closed the door one last time I momentarily paused, closed my eyes and thanked God for this incredible blessing/journey the last 32 years of my life. I am not “Always a Wildcat” I am “Forever a Wildcat!”
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”– Fred Rogers